Using Digital Resources in the History Classroom

Using scholarly, on-line resources to facilitate class discussions and writing assignments can be a boon to history instruction. Such websites place a wide array of conveniently-formatted primary and well-considered secondary sources in students’ hands for free. Additionally, they serve as tools to help students become more discerning in their internet usage. Although there are many valid reasons to continue using more traditional printed resources, moving some assignments over to the internet is worth considering.

On a more practical level, well-formatted writing assignments based on internet sources can ease some of the most blatant issues of academic dishonesty. Most scholarly sites contain huge amounts of information, often more than undergraduates — especially freshmen and sophomores — are able to contend with. Well defined questions aimed at exploring limited sections of specific websites not only comfort inexperienced scholars, they also offer course leaders a great deal of source control. Plagiarized essays stand out even when finding their origins is difficult because they simply fail to include the assigned sources.

Some of the websites I have assigned include Jamestown Rediscovery; Geography of Slavery; Railroads and the Making of Modern America; Black Past.org; and Farm Workers in Washington State History Project. A number of these work both for Regional History courses and the US survey sequence. The exciting thing about all these sites is the huge number of interesting assignments that can be generated. I encourage scholars already using these resources to share them with our colleagues. Perhaps we can develop some sort of repository in the near future.

Kurt E. Kinbacher
Spokane Falls Community College

Coming up on the Conference

What are people thinking about in terms of discussions/questions for the conference? I know I would like to hear about tools people have used successfully in any of the three areas of emphasis (teaching, public history, and research). I have had relatively good results with MIT’s Simile widgets (although I am currently wrestling with a weird code issue) and am thinking about other open source resources. Any one have any other tools to chat about?

Digital History Goes Mainstream

Western historians interested in digital history will find the topics and themes listed on the call for papers for the 2010 American Association for History and Computing of great interest:

Digital History Goes Mainstream: The Role of Digital Technologies in Historical Scholarship, Teaching, and Society
November 5-7th George Mason University, Fairfax Virginia
Proposals due: September 10th

Any of these topics and themes are fair game for discussion in this blog and in our workshop at the WHA meeting in Nevada in October.